By Emily Garcia
The thought of chess might not excite most audiences, but in Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit,” the usually elegant game takes on a much more edgy turn. This seven episode series takes place in the 1960s, when stereotypes of men and women were portrayed heavily. As we have come to expect from Netflix, this is a great series because Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a woman who breaks the gender barrier as she competes against the men of the chess world who are unsuccessful in their attempts to intimidate her.
Harmon is sent to an orphanage in her beginning years after surviving a car crash which killed her mother. The scenery is quite unsettling at first because it seems more like a hospital than a “home.” She had little to no friends and was quite an odd girl.
Her years of chess begin when she makes friends with the janitor Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp) who secretly teaches her chess in the basement. The game becomes her escape from everyone and everything else. Once she is adopted by a middle-aged couple, Beth starts to compete in many tournaments at different high schools, always against male chess players. She surpasses all of them one by one, and several the same time. She and her mother, Alma Wheatley (Marielle Stiles Heller), eventually travel the world together, while Beth wins tournaments and defeats all of her opponents.
Along her journey, people continuously underestimate her even as she competes in more serious tournaments. At first, they only see her as a “helpless,” young woman who wears pretty clothing and is nowhere near their league. She proves them all wrong by defeating every single of them one by one.
The whole series is Beth’s story and how she overcomes the challenges that she faces mostly on her own. It starts to progress as she gets back on track. Beth Harmon soon starts discovering the world and where she fits in it. Her independence is what gets her where she needs to be.
The show provides a strong female role, but also illustrates the challenges of breaking the gender barrier to achieve that strength. For instance, in the show, both Beth and her mother struggle with addiction to the fictional Xanzolam, an anti-anxiety medication, as well as alcohol. The show links strict gender roles to addiction, making Beth’s struggle that much more compelling to watch.
What is most important is the feeling you get while watching “The Queen’s Gambit.” Each episode has chilling moments when you are watching Beth in her surroundings, whether in the orphanage, the Wheatley’s home, or Russia. There is always something odd and eye-catching when watching her life unravel. The show renders each episode with lots of emotion, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the end. It’s almost difficult not to binge the show because you need to know what happens.
The series is phenomenal and very dramatic but not cliche.